Manafort Plea Deal Casts New Scrutiny on Lobbyists He Recruited

Prosecutors say that the firm’s lawyers privately expressed doubts to Mr. Manafort about Ms. Tymoshenko’s intent and power to perform the crimes of which she was convicted, but that those points “were not disclosed to the public.”

Instead, Mr. Manafort, in a September 2012 memo to Mr. Yanukovych that prosecutors disclosed on Friday, asserted that the Obama administration indicated that if a report written by Skadden on the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko “showed that the trial was conducted fairly and the conviction was based on the facts of the case and not politically motivated, it would have a mitigating impact.”

Skadden’s report, released less than two months later, was widely panned as a whitewash of the prosecution. Nonetheless, Mr. Craig and others at the firm disseminated and discussed the report with “numerous government officials” in the executive branch and Congress, as well as The Times, without disclosing that the firm was paid more than $4.6 million for its work, including $4 million from an offshore account controlled by Mr. Manafort.

Mr. Manafort and his associates hid the cost of the report, as well as the fact that the firm had also been retained to work for the Ukrainian government more broadly, because they believed revealing that context “would undermine the report’s being perceived as an independent assessment and thus being an effective lobbying tool for Manafort to use to support the incarceration of President Yanukovych’s political opponent,” prosecutors said in a court filing.

After prosecutors began making inquiries — and issuing subpoenas — about Skadden’s Ukraine work, the firm returned more than $600,000 to the Ukrainian government, and also forced Mr. Craig to leave.

Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School who specializes in legal ethics, said that Mr. Mueller’s portrayal of the report and the firm’s fee “does not look good” for the firm.

“If I were the Skadden attorneys who did this, I would be extremely worried,” she said. While the allegations in Friday’s filings might not in and of themselves create criminal exposure for Skadden or its lawyers, she said, there could be legal ethics implications.

Bill Taylor, a lawyer representing Mr. Craig, said his client “was not required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”